Poultry’s Power Player

Operators spice up chicken with world flavors, healthy twists on traditional favorites.

UNT's Tiki Chiki Nanni, which is served on warm flatbread.

Chicken may be the ultimate protein choice for operators in today’s recovering economy. Customer-friendly, affordable, reliable and versatile, chicken fits the bill in just about any market, offering a base for myriad options.

World flavors: At the University of North Texas in Denton, the Khush Roti International Food Trailer “combines the accessibility of sandwiches with the flair of foreign cuisine,” according to the department’s website. The trailer offers nine international sandwiches, including the Tiki Chiki Nanini, which Executive Chef Joe Rosenthal says is a student favorite, especially with the university’s international student population. After marinating the chicken breast in yogurt and Indian spices including garam masala, the chicken is grilled and added to roasted potatoes, onions and garlic cheese. The sandwich is served on warm flatbread.

At Sodexo, a focus on senior dining has led to spicing up chicken dishes. John Friedman, director of public relations for Sodexo’s corporate communications in Gaithersburg, Md., says, “One of our interests is with senior living. These people have creative tastes. They have been around the world and have developed highly sophisticated culinary palates. We like to have fun and push the envelope.”

To add some variety to the menus, Sodexo chefs have developed a dish that taps into Northern Italian cuisine.

“Chicken Valdostana is a tribute to an area of northern Italy called the Aosta Valley,” says Adam Pazder, executive chef at Judson Park Retirement Community in Des Moines, Wash.

Because of the Aosta Valley’s close proximity to countries like France, Switzerland and Austria, the region incorporates flavors that fit the style of stuffed meat like the cordon bleu. “By replacing simple ham with prosciutto, and Swiss with a more complex cheese like fontina, we can create a more upscale dish that retains its distinctly Italian feel,” Pazder says. “Utilizing light seasoning and fresh herbs like woodsy sage, and cooking techniques like roasting, instead of deep-frying, we are also able to mimic the original dish but in a healthier way. Last, we add a complex, yet culturally appropriate sauce like the brown butter and garlic white bean sauce. You have now completely taken the customer beyond their recollections and expectations to a brand new experience.”

At California State University in Chico, the foodservice department uses chicken in a variety of ways in its ethnic menu items. “We use boneless strips for many of our Asian concepts, combining it with local rice and vegetables,” says Yves Latouche, food service director. “We also use pulled chicken for our Mexican concepts, sometimes with mango salsa.”

Chicken’s versatility helps operators bring world flavors to their operations.

“We do a lot with chicken breasts and thighs but a little differently,” says Dwight Collins, executive chef of dining services, University of California, Santa Clara. “Our Indian and Eastern Mediterranean concepts use boneless, skinless thighs for dishes such as tandoori chicken wraps, chicken jalfrezi, chicken korma and chicken shawarma. In addition, we do Santa Fe, Moroccan, Cajun pecan, Arcadia, Pomeray, Avignon, Moroccan and Thai.”

Janet Baker, director of nutritional services, Mt. Caramel St. Anne’s Hospital in Westerville, Ohio, says one of her favorite dishes is the blackberry balsamic chicken. “We use boneless breasts and seasoned breading and cook it in a skillet,” Baker says. “We finish it in low-sodium chicken broth, stirring in frozen blackberries, balsamic vinaigrette and light brown sugar. We serve it over rice with the sauce drizzled on top.”

Getting creative: “One thing that is gaining in popularity is chipotle chicken,” says Robert Mayberry, campus executive chef, department of housing and food service at the University of Texas, Austin. “We serve a Sonoran wrap with lettuce, tomato and pepper jack cheese in a 12-inch sundried tomato tortilla with a chipotle ranch dressing dip on the side. It’s simple but elegant. Along with our Caesar wrap, we sell close to 200 per day at our grab-and-go locations.”

Chicken piccata, chicken fried rice, Thai skewers and chicken Florentine are all menued at the university.

Healthy twist: “We use a lot of classic chicken dishes,” says Executive Chef Charles Diffenderfer, Genesis Healthcare, Towson, Md. “When you’re dealing with senior living, you find that they don’t go for funky things. We’re forced to serve traditional dishes more often than not. However, we do try to limit the number of fryers we use. We try to get that typical family fried dish served in a healthier way without losing too much of the flavor. We rely more on crusting, baking and roasting. For instance, we make a Maryland fried pretzel-coated chicken that is really baked. As a hot alternative, we’ve added chicken crêpes to the menu, with a choice of different sauces over the top.”

At the Medical Center of Lewisville in Texas, Nancy Maslonka serves Parmesan and sweet potato crusted chicken with marinara sauce.

“This recipe was adapted to fit our National Nutrition Month heart-healthy café menu,” she says. “We replaced the traditional egg wash with a seasoned blend of puréed carrots and sweet potatoes. The white flour or panko bread crumb crust was replaced with shredded Parmesan cheese, wheat flour and wheat germ. It had great crunch, with a spoon of marinara sauce. It was unbelievably moist, a little on the sweet side. It was a hit.”